While they may be at one with the crowd, they are not one of the crowd:
We think of our projects as 'irreal' stage sets. Although they are of the 'real', immediate and material world; and are implicated in its circumstances, codes and conventions they are simultaneously estranged from it. In this regard, it bears noting (by appropriation) that if all the world's a stage, not every stage is equal. For example, sometimes a stage is just a stage somewhere in the world, a backdrop. And sometimes a stage is a world in and of itself - it is not just a platform 'beside', or 'against', but it has an 'inside' and 'outside' too. To wit, in his writing on London practice 6a architects, critic Irénée Scalbert states that architecture "does not represent situations, but it stages them" and that "(O)n rare occasions, it is itself a performance."
We could not agree more.
Typically our stage sets are one of either two kinds of room - exterior (usually urban, where the sky is a ceiling and slightly exaggerated frames define the beat and pulse of surfaces and edges,) or interior (usually involving the sleeving, or skirting, of existing spaces, with very little, or no connection to the outside world - where subdued wall surfaces perform attenuated graphic acts, or turbulent ones ruffle existing perimeters). Alternatively, they are autonomous objects (usually characterized by compact, prismatic profiles, or elephantine bulk) that set up passive/aggressive relationships with their surroundings. The inspiration for stage set atmospheres and moods is Mies van der Rohe's body of work; particularly the early phase when Mies's work was caught between times and sensibilities.
They are almost complete fragments on an incompletely fragmented stage:
Like punctuation in the run-on sentence-like urban and ex-urban landscapes whose coherence is impossible and whose communicative capacities are, at best, Delphic, our stage sets make a difference without claiming to clarify anything at all. For they briefly change a situation, like a comma - or a hyphen - does to a sentence. Depending on the situation - the ratio of foreground to background, noise to silence - the stage sets might act like blank screen ellipses, shadowy framed caesuras, or agitated prismatic figures on a fuzzy horizon.
Because no thing is inherently meaningful and no thing transmits anything immutably significant, our interest in punctuation is both charged and inflected by having next to nothing left to say, or to do, after Mies's theaters of almost, or next to, nothing.
This minute, nearly mute space is an interesting one in which to work.
And in it, we chase an Architecture that is neither parlante nor participante but to both somehow tangentially connected.
That is an architecture after gesture, whose analogs might include: . , ! : … - ( ) ;
Theaters of Architecture:
Architecture is a rhetorical discipline. In a sense it is a theatrical pursuit whose stagecraft and artifacts privilege desire over need; or aspiration for more - and what's different - over resignation to, more or less, another version of the same. As rhetorical theater, Architecture aspires to impress, seduce and unfold alternatives to the here and now and, yet, somehow it is also in the here and now that it is forged. High invariably implicates low and the uncommon unfailingly summons the common. It was not by accident that Inigo Jones, an Elizabethan Court Masque designer, first brought the foundational disciplinary treatise of Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio to the attention of the Royal Court and thereafter to the English speaking world during the heyday of William Shakespeare's wildly successful populist plays and performances.
In this time, after modernity while in its wake, Theaters of Architecture echo the viral explosion of new and complex conceptions of subjects and objects, objects and things as well as the complex web of relationships that link things and situations together (while inevitably leaving some out). The mise-en-scènes of our days indulge a broad spectrum of senses and sensibilities, producing subjectivities like those imagined in modernist theater as well as modernist art, literature, and philosophy. That is the Absurd/ist (after Samuel Becket and his contemporaneous author Albert Camus); the Cruel (after Antonin Artaud and before him a philosopher like Friedrich Nietzsche); and the Epic (after Bertolt Brecht and after him a film director like Lars von Trier).
Importantly, Theaters of Architecture conceived along such lines do not occur everywhere and they are not just any thing. Generally few and far between, they are specifically among us and they delimit particular relationships. For their foil is the commonplace, the everyday, the anywhere even though their deviations are indebted to norms and tinged by generic circumstances.
Yet while accepting of roles as and on worldly stages they do so without resignation.
This is to say that Theaters of Architecture are precise points of departure from sites of the same and yet they are tethered to them. And having encountered their dis-locative precision to those departure sites of the same we return a little differently.
Our stage sets tend to be more precisely Absurd(ist) than Cruel. Generally, we try to avoid Epic stagecraft. For while its attempts to interrupt the 'real' through deliberate, alienating detachment are well-intentioned and well-meaning, the end results are far too often implicated in 'real' machinations and economies of signification to do little more than deliver bathos. In this sense, the recent work of Daniel Libeskind comes to mind.
Think of the Absurd stage set as being any combination of blank and silent, dumb and odd, bleached and shadow drenched, a reflective sheet and an absorptive mirror. Think of it as one that comprises a generous ratio of industrialized vernacular elements that accrue enough presence to suggest a new formal dialect. Palpable references for Absurd stage sets include Dan Graham's pavilions or Michael Asher's interventions. In architecture Rem Koolhaas's work often operates similarly, and so too does Toyo Ito's or Kazuyo Sejima's. In terms of Cruelty think of the stage set as a strident, destabilizing assault on the senses, or on conventional wisdom. For example, Wolf Prix is an architect whose stage sets could be described as Cruel. Zaha Hadid's work used to be Cruel and François Roche's is, in a completely different way. Alternatively, the works (and words) of architects like Peter Eisenman swing between Absurdity and Cruelty. Sometimes even one work by Mies van der Rohe sets up both moods at once.
To these ends ...
we are indebted to: Mies van der Rohe (particularly the restless work of the Berlin years and the dark silence of the Chicago years), Gerhard Richter's Irrealism and Giorgio Agamben's philosophical and political thought.
and we admire:
Michael Asher's arithmetic;
Pier Vittorio Aureli's agonisms (absolutely without the moralisms);
Josep Coderch's precisely obtuse forms;
Alan Colquhoun's manner of formal criticism;
Alejandro de la Sota's stunningly stark surfaces;
the restrained Constructivist Bravura of the early Dutch moderns (see the Open Air School by Jan Duiker and Bernard Bijvoet, for example);
Thomas Demand's alertness to a situation, no matter its lack of import;
the breadth and depth of Ignasi de Solà-Morales's thinking;
Miguel Fisac's strange tectonic experiments;
the political significance of Tony Fretton's frank and delicately gestural work - especially during the Margaret Thatcher years;
Alberto Giacometti's ethereality;
Dan Graham's muted materialist mischief;
K Michael Hays's writings on the theatrical performances of works by Mies van der Rohe and John Hejduk;
Rem Koolhaas's razor-sharp wit;
Rosalind Krauss's tenacious intellect;
Sigurd Lewerentz's near formal silence;
Adolf Loos's sense of balance, depth and proportion;
Andy MacMillan and Isi Metzstein's combined energies;
Agnes Martin's economic abundance;
the early work of Enric Miralles in partnership with Carme Pinos;
the delicate line work of public spaces by Albert Viaplana and Helio Pinon (especially when a young Enric Miralles drew them);
Hans Poelzig's sharp silhouettes and cavernous interiors;
Cedric Price's logic ad absurdum;
Ad Reinhardt's abstraction ad absurdum;
Edward Said's intellectual generosity;
Denise Scott Brown's worldliness and productive sense of doubt;
Alvaro Siza's poised, empathic monuments;
Alison and Peter Smithson's awkward, often coarse formalism;
James Stirling's work, particularly with James Gowan;
Robert Venturi's scholarliness and compositional humor;
Robin Webster for planting seeds;
Peter Wilson's work, especially when he taught at the AA;